Redefining Disabled – what does that mean?
I recently attended public forum in my town called disAbilities Matter: A Focus on Disability Awareness, hosted by our local Human Rights Commission. The discussion centered on the impact and effects of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as well as the concept of redefining disabled. There were two moderators, a panel of experts, and a presentation by an indie film director.
Are you super excited yet?
Stay with me here.
It was, in fact, very interesting and informative! The person I cheekily referred to as an “indie film director” is actually Academy Award nominee Alice Elliott, Area Head of Documentary Studies at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She is a fascinating person and amazing filmmaker. What a coup to have her in our little town! The panelists were great (especially Kim Lan Grout – you’ll find out more about her in a moment). Plus there was a butt-load of delicious food from the fab Mediterranean deli of Chapel Hill. I mean seriously. This was a great way to spend the afternoon and I genuinely had a good time.
More to the point, I had a bit of a revelation while I was there.
We can all be a part of redefining disabled!
And we can all be advocates
Being an advocate doesn’t necessarily mean protesting at the capitol. You don’t have to join the board of your local Disability Advocacy group. You don’t need to be an expert on the Americans with Disabilities Act (commonly known as the ADA). Being an advocate means noticing, speaking up, and taking action – and anyone can do that.Being an advocate means noticing, speaking up, and taking action. Click To Tweet
Earlier I mentioned Kim Lan Grout. She is a writer, photographer, yoga enthusiast, mom of two, entrepreneur, TEDx speaker, and oh yeh – she has what my kids call an “awesome robot leg.” She knows a thing or two about advocacy and is the founder and director of an exciting project called Redefining Disabled. Via photos and narratives, she strives to “capture, in individual creative portraits, people with various disabilities in their daily lives.”
The Redefining Disabled Project is not a sensationalized media version of life with a disability.
Kim Lan emphasizes that the often sensationalized media version people with disabilities (PwDs) reinforces society’s perception of them as either pitiful leeches or heroic athletes, and that this is not what her work is about. “Disabled living is not at all how it’s conveyed in the media,” she says. “In a lot of quotidian ways with most individuals, life with a disability is rather ordinary in that we generally perform the same daily tasks as someone without a disability. But what’s kind of cool about disabled living is how creative a person with a disability has to be to accomplish those daily tasks. What people do and how creative they are is fascinating and worthy of recognition.” Her interviews give us a peek into the lives of her subjects: Their joys, their struggles, their fears, their determination. Her ability to capture people’s personalities in a photograph is amazing.This is not a sensationalized media version of life with a disability. Click To Tweet
Kim Lan recognizes that people with disabilities have made tremendous social progress in the past twenty years, and also knows that help from able-bodied allies will move the fight for equity further, faster. The every-day advocacy of noticing, speaking up and taking action makes a difference. “PwDs really do need allies on the other end of the physically abled spectrum to say, ‘Hey, this store aisle isn’t really fit for a wheelchair user,’ or ‘There are no curb cuts in my town,’ and then to take steps to remedy those issues alongside PwDs” she says. Advocacy isn’t limited to outward actions. Kim Lan notes that being sensitive to how we treat PwDs and teaching our children to respect our similarities as well as our differences is crucial to helping the greater cause. I found a great resource for beginning the conversation with our kids in the unique coloring book Just Like Us: A Coloring Book Celebrating Children with Limb Differences*.
It’s time to replace “them” with “we”.
The word disabled implies The Other but Kim Lan’s work knocks down that wall of us/them thinking. A person with a disability – visible or invisible – is a person first. I think Kim Lan’s Redefining Disabled project is one of the most important types of advocacy there is and I urge you to visit her site and consider supporting this important work. Learning to embrace our similarities and honor our differences can change the world.The word disabled implies The Other but @The_RD_Project knocks down that wall of us/them thinking. Click To Tweet
Kim Lan is raising money to further the Redefining Disabled Project’s mission to spread disability awareness by telling the stories of the “average Joe” with a disability. The funding will, among other things, allow her to travel outside of her own community to explore the often invisible experiences of PwDs in a variety of circumstances. How does the experience of a person with a disability struggling with extreme poverty differ from that of someone in a more comfortable financial position? What creative coping methods does a person with a disability use to compensate when they live far from a hospital or have little to no exposure to much-needed assistive devices? Funding this project will help find answers, spread awareness, and allow all of us be better advocates!How will you support the important work of Redefining Disabled Project? @The_RD_Project… Click To Tweet
“Mass media has already fed us the answers.” Says Kim Lan. “But I challenge that assumption: Things aren’t always as they seem.”